Regular readers of The Catholic Sun and this column are well aware that the past months have been particularly difficult not only for the Church itself but for all who look to the Church as a loving Mother. For men and women of all ages and places, there has been a loss of trust in the institution and the people in whom they should have confidence.
With the Advent season upon us, we have both a sense of expectation and a time of hope. As you now know, at the beginning of Advent, after much prayer and appropriate consultation, I released the names of priests of our diocese who have been credibly accused of the abuse of a child or young person over the past 70 years. None of the individuals named are active in ministry now or have been in recent years. The decision to release these names did not come easily. However, I felt the need to move forward in the hope of bringing healing to many and to rebuild trust with accountability and transparency.
Frequently, I am asked, “What is the diocese doing to make sure that a similar situation in the Church, namely the abuse of children and young people, does not occur in the future?” I answer that I am confident we have put in place the best safeguards possible. Since 2002, when the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was adopted, we have implemented:
• A Comprehensive Child and Youth Protection Policy that applies to all clergy, religious, employees and those volunteers whose ministry puts them in contact with children, young people and vulnerable adults.
• A Safe Environment Program that requires training, education and criminal background checks of clergy, religious, employees and volunteers whose ministry places them in contact with children which must be renewed every five years. The program also requires prevention and educational programs for children in the Catholic schools and parish Faith Formation programs. Over 42,000 adults and 15,000 children have been credentialed as of November 2018.
• An office of Victim Assistance that provides support and services to individuals who may have been sexually abused by a member of the clergy or other members of the diocese.
• A Memorandum of Understanding with the District Attorneys of the seven counties of the diocese that states all allegations will be reported to the appropriate District Attorney before the diocese begins its canonical process.
• The Diocesan Review Board made up of well-qualified lay professionals, a priest, and a woman religious that oversees investigations into allegations of clergy sexual abuse of a minor once the District Attorney’s office has completed its review.
By following the protocols of the charter, significant steps have been taken to reach out to victims, involve the laity, partner with law enforcement, and maintain a culture in which children and young people are safe and protected.
In February 2018, the diocese initiated the Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program designed to offer reparation, promote reconciliation, and further healing to individuals who in the past were sexually abused by members of the diocesan clergy. The program is nearing its conclusion. Upon its completion, a full report will be provided to the people of the diocese.
In continuing the commitment to embrace fully the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the diocese has provided on its website a list of clergy who have a credible allegation of abuse since 1950. All of these individuals either have been removed from ministry or are deceased. Credible is defined as: an allegation that based upon the facts of the case and meets one or more of the following thresholds:
• natural, reasonable, plausible and probable
• corroborated with other evidence or another source, or
• acknowledged/admitted to by the accused.
In making the determination of a credible allegation, consideration is given to the trustworthiness of the source.
I repeat, as I have often noted in the past: There is no member of the clergy in active ministry with a credible allegation of abuse.
In the past few days, I have heard from a number of people. One victim-survivor told me of the hope he always receives from the readings from Isaiah that this season of Advent brings. He hopes that no one loses sight of the truth that we are all sinners and God alone judges with fairness and justice.
As Advent calls us to be watchful, I promise that the diocese will continue to do all that is humanly possible to see that our children and young people and indeed all members of the Church will be protected and treated with the dignity that we are all entitled to as children of God created in His image and likeness. Please join me in prayer during this sacred season of expectation and hope that together we can accomplish this sacred trust.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.